AuthentiZity Plugging into the next generation
A father tours his 16-year-old son around the college he attended. He laughs out loud as he shares intimate stories of his adventures. He takes him to his favorite pizza joint and shows him where he met his college sweetheart. And after a couple hours of walking down memory lane, they end up on the lawn tossing a Frisbee just as he had 30 years earlier. After some hesitation, the teenager holds the disc at his side, walks over to his father and says, “Dad, you had some amazing experiences at school. What kind of stories do you think I will have?”
That is a good question and one that your team might want to give a lot of thought. In a recent KelmscottEDU study (see: below), one of the key issues that emerged was that many professionals felt unsure of their institution’s readiness to effectively recruit Gen Z students. It is obvious that the same engagement tools that worked in recent years will not resonate in the same way with Gen Z.
According to Chris Childers, Director of University Marketing and Communications for North Park University, “For the Gen Z audience, authentic means being truthful, relevant and true to the lives they and their peers are living. Anything that appears fake or inauthentic is to be avoided. Only credible recommendations from friends or influencers are trusted.” The next generation is craving unique stories.
As luck would have it, the next generation is emerging at a time when authentic experiences matter. While most of the Gen Z population has yet to truly define themselves, a lot of people, regardless of age, are tired of the constancy of technology and the sharing of every waking moment. So we are all hungry for the kind of memories that belong just to us.
According to Trish Witkowski, a keynote speaker for the marketing services and higher education industries and CEO of Foldfactory Inc., “Gen Z is more curious, humble and independent than the Millennial generation. They are collaborative, self-directed, industrious, socially conscious and obsessed with connectivity.”
Gen Z has grown up with mobile technology and social media—it’s all they have ever known—so they form relationships differently than others. They believe that they can have authentic relationships using technology rather than just facetoface communication.
This emerging generation is an empowered group not easily swayed by the status quo. Therefore, colleges and universities need to have a dfferent approach to recruit Gen Z students. Higher education enrollment specialists need to cultivate the possibility for the kids to have an authentic and unique experience. Childers says, “The Gen Z audience has developed a low tolerance for corporate advertising. Ads, in their opinion, are skippable. To reach Gen Z, colleges will need to create authentic experiences.”
Based on the characteristics of Gen Z, colleges and universities may want to pivot from a static message to one that journeys with the student – in order to be more authentic - moving to content that is dynamic and targeted to the individual student’s interests and needs. Authenticity will be a result of letting them become co-creators of their experience and aording them the chance to create the relationship with your brand on their home turf using technology and data so your message resonates with them.
Gen Z does not know a world without around-the-clock access. They expect an immediate response because that is what they are accustomed to. So, specialists will need to create the mechanisms that provide instant feedback. In addition, Gen Z is much more protective of their privacy than Millennials. Witkowski goes so far as to say, “They’ll turn o their geolocation, which will destroy your dreams of geofencing campaigns that may have worked for Millennials”.
Childers believes “Gen Z students are looking to hear from the students at the university who they can trust and relate. They want to learn if the institution can provide an experience they can be proud of, provide a lot of programs, and have a positive environment with good school spirit.”
As content takes the lead in marketing, it follows that stories are important to Gen Z. But heed Childers’ advice when he says, “Since authenticity is important, a relatable personal source is critical.”
There is nothing unique in the social world anymore and Gen Z is not as willing to share. In fact, you can see it in the social media tools they choose. As Childers states, “Gen Z are social media and digital experts. Their preferred social media tools are unique to their generation. As opposed to email and Facebook, Gen Z prefer newer social media platforms like Whisper, Secret, Vine and Snapchat.”
Gen Z youths are heavily influenced by those closest to them. In fact, research shows that they are very dependent on their parents’ input. According to John Baworowsky, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Marquette University, “Telling stories about student experiences will be much more important for this generation than simply selling an institution using facts and figures. Students want to know about experiences had by current students.”
They also like to see other Gen Zers in the communications because they are looking for a story that they can trust. To do so, Gen Z looks to the opinion of their peers, friends and family, and social media influencers.
“To be authentic, we need to pull data from students so that we can customize our message to them. Imagine if we could match a current student vignette to a prospective student’s particular interests. This would be a powerful way to story tell about our institution,” says Baworowsky.
Interestingly, as the first truly digitally native generation, Gen Z responds to the tangibility and “magic” of personalized print combined with digital strategies (print+mobile). Analog is intriguing to them. They love mail, and they enjoy receiving relevant print products produced just for them.
It is time to plug in to Gen Z and recharge your school. This generation is emerging at a time when we could all use a little more authenticity in our lives.
KelmscottEDU Benchmark Research
R U Ready for Z?
Readiness Study highlights Higher Education changes to recruit Gen Z students
In their most recent study, “The Gen Z Readiness Benchmark Report,” KelmscottEDU explored the level of preparedness of both individuals and institutions to communicate with and recruit the next generation. The national research study, which polled marketing and enrollment professionals from private and public U.S. colleges and universities, was designed to measure the level of readiness and any changes to strategy and communications.
Institutions that have made changes to communications fall into the following categories:
- Increase in personalized communications
- More direct messaging
- More video, email and texting
- Greater use of social media platforms
- Shorter publications with less copy
- Greater attention to website navigation
- Segmenting audiences more
- Using persona-based marketing
Recruitment Strategy Updates
nstitutions making updates to recruitment strategy have focused on these areas:
- Greater use of technology to reach students
- Wider use of social media platforms
- Development of parent communication plan
- Use of a texting software platform
- Increased use of short videos
- Use of digital marketing for top-of-the-funnel recruitment
- More one-on-one sessions with families while traveling